So this week in the spirit of trying something new and continuing my de-stressing a few of us went to see the National Theatre production of Danny Boyles Frankenstein. Up until a few months ago when I saw an advert for Othello I had no idea that I could watch plays at the cinema but these days as well as the latest blockbuster and foreign language film you can view live screenings from certain NT plays along with ones from the Royal Shakespeare Company. For people like me living in the North of England (or Scotland or Wales for that matter) and not getting the opportunity to pop down to London or Stratford on a regular basis this is a fantastic way to see good quality plays on a budget.
But back to Frankenstein… This was a screening first shown in 2012 (told you I’d only just caught on!) but proved so popular it was repeated last year and again this Halloween. Now having seen it I can see why it’s so well loved and won so many awards. According to my friend this was the last project Danny Boyle did before starting work on the summer Olympics and while I haven’t seen too many of his films it did strike me as “typical” Boyle after having witnessed the Olympic Ceremonies, Brilliant use of light and music and that’s before I start on the genius casting.
It was a battle of the two Sherlocks (and pretty much my reason for going in the first place) with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller playing both roles. One would be the Creature one night and Dr Frankenstein the next. Watching the short making of beforehand it gave them an excellent opportunity to play off each other and see how each one could bring different elements to the same roles.
The first viewing on Halloween night had Cumberbatch playing the Creature. Springing forth from a womb-like apparatus he rolled around on the floor in such a perfect intimation it made the people with me (who have witnessed epileptic fits in person) squirm with the reality of the performance. Not something I have ever seen (or want to) but I could still feel uneasy with it. In the making-of he had said he’d studied stroke victims and how they had learnt to walk again and he did spend the entire performance somehow both giving the possibility of constantly losing the ability to walk with a remarkable physical performance in leaping around onto structures. Speech-wise there were a constant child like mannerisms and little bits of humour throughout. I had the impression of a genius trapped in a disabled persons body. Having met a few stroke victims I know full well the mind doesn’t falter just because the body does and it must be a very distressing situation when you can’t fully be the person you physically want to/used to be
I did wonder how it could ever be topped when witnessing Millers interpretation yesterday. For him, he decided to model learning to walk on his then 2 year old child starting wobbly but soon balancing quite well. Only the hands never changed throughout often bent in awkward positions. Again he had incredible physicality. In both shows incidentally I have never seen 2 men sweat so much! Both of them were in danger of losing their prosthetics on regular occasions. Millers performance was different again in speech, he often sounded almost like his New York Sherlock when speaking the longer parts. His creature at times seemed almost normal which was not necessarily a bad thing as he could occasionally mask the more frightening aspects of his character.
All credit to the make up department in that they made both Creatures slightly different too with Miller going Method and shaving his head with little fake tufts and Cumberbatch opting for the skull cap (you wouldn’t want him losing that lovely hair now would you???) and far more facial scars. Miller in fact seemed almost pretty in comparison.
I did wonder at first if it was possible to say who turned out the best performance and the answer is you can’t as each one was so completely different. I’m glad I had the opportunity to witness both though. The NT showings are available at certain times throughout the majority of cinema chains and I would encourage anybody to take advantage of them when they can. You never know what treasures you may have otherwised missed.
Next up – Coriolanus in January with Tom Hiddleston, the Shakespeare play that I have always had most trouble with. Hopefully this one will be as equally memorable.